25 October 2007

Me and Chains

To put it simply, chains bug me. This should not be news to anyone who reads this site. Chains erode communities and neutralize the flavor of life. They are diluting the character of this City through homogenization and arid design.

However, my attitude toward chains is not wholly monochromatic. The other day I noticed that a Brooks Brothers outlet was in the process of being installed at the southeast corner of Broadway and 65th Street, a space that had always been occupied by one bank or another. This is did not really dismay me.

I will explain. Brooks Brothers is, to my mind, a local chain. I know, I know. It's owned by some international conglomerate (an Italian billionaire, actually), and has nothing really to do with New York anymore. But its roots in Gotham are deep. It was founded here in 1818 and is the oldest men's clothier in the United States. It has always been in New York, at one location or another, moving northward in Manhattan as fashions dictated. The flagship Madison Avenue store can still give your an "Old New York" thrill. It introduced Oxford, button-down shirts to the people. It was the first U.S. store to carry ready-made suits, Shetland sweaters, Harris tweed, seersucker suits and Madras. When some people look at Brook Brothers they see a conservative-cum-boring clothing giant. I see a rather romantic remnant of New York's mercantile past.

I am similarly not upset when Fairway opens a new store, or Tiffany, or P.J. Clarke's or even the horrid Modell's. These are New York businesses, born and bred, and a have a right to a stake in the City's fortunes. (I draw the line at hometown boy Duane Reade, which is far too land-hungry for my tastes.) What offends me are the chains that bear no connection to the city and yet feel they have the right to run roughshod over our streets.

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